Orson Pratt


Orson Pratt
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
January 20, 1843 (1843-01-20) – October 3, 1881 (1881-10-03)
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
April 26, 1835 (1835-04-26) – August 20, 1842 (1842-08-20)
LDS Church Apostle
April 26, 1835 (1835-04-26)
ReasonInitial organization of Quorum of the Twelve
at end of term
George Teasdale and Heber J. Grant ordained [1]
Personal details
Born(1811-09-19)September 19, 1811
Hartford, New York, United States
DiedOctober 3, 1881(1881-10-03) (aged 70)
Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, United States
Resting placeSalt Lake City Cemetery
40°46′37.92″N 111°51′28.8″W / 40.7772000°N 111.858000°W / 40.7772000; -111.858000

Orson Pratt Sr. (September 19, 1811 – October 3, 1881) was an American mathematician and religious leader who was an original member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Christ (Latter Day Saints). He became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) and was a leading Mormon theologian and writer until his death.[3]

Church membership and service

Pratt was born in Hartford, New York, the son of Jared Pratt and Charity Dickenson. He was the younger brother of Parley P. Pratt, who introduced him to Latter Day Saint church and baptized him on Orson's nineteenth birthday, September 19, 1830, in Canaan, New York.[4]

Pratt was ordained an Elder several months later, on April 26, 1831, by Joseph Smith and immediately set out for Colesville, New York, his first mission. This was the first of a number of short missions in which Pratt visited New York, Ohio, Missouri, and the Eastern States. On February 2, 1832, he was ordained a High Priest by Sidney Rigdon, whereafter he continued his missions, preaching in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

Pratt was a member of the original Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, called in 1835 under the direction of Joseph Smith.[5] He was ordained to this position on April 26, 1835. He served as a member of the mission of the Twelve Apostles to the British Isles between 1839 and 1841.

He contributed to the mission by preaching in Scotland, and producing an early missionary tract, "An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions". This tract contains the earliest known public printing of an account of Smith's First Vision and also contains material similar to that later published as the 1842 Articles of Faith.[4]

On his return to America in 1841, Pratt found the church membership in contention over several issues. Rumors and gossip were rife in Nauvoo, Illinois, and Pratt found the religious principle of plural marriage difficult to accept. He rebelled against Joseph Smith when a report by disaffected Mormon John C. Bennett accused Smith of proposing marriage to Pratt's wife, Sarah Pratt, which Smith denied. Additionally, a story was circulating that Sarah Pratt had been involved with Bennett himself. Pratt was torn between believing his wife or Smith, and wrote, "My sorrows are greater than I can bear!" A public meeting was held where a resolution supporting Smith's character was proposed; Pratt stated that he was unable to support the resolution, to which Smith replied, "Have you personally a knowledge of any immoral act in me toward the female sex, or in any other way?", to which Pratt answered no. After days of Smith and the other members of the Twelve remonstrating with Pratt, they decided that he would not yield, and thus Pratt was excommunicated on August 20, 1842. Bennett claimed that Pratt and his wife were planning to leave Nauvoo and help him "expose Mormonism"; Pratt would later publish a statement in the Nauvoo Expositor to deny this claim. Pratt reconciled with Smith a few months after their falling out and requested re-baptism. Pratt was reinstated in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on January 20, 1843. Smith and Pratt directly discussed Pratt's wife, with Smith stating to him, "She lied about me: I never made the offer which she said I did." After which Joseph suggested he divorce Sarah and start a new family. [6][note 1]

Mission president in Britain

After the death of Joseph Smith, Pratt was among the apostles that supported the leadership of Brigham Young, who determined to move his followers from Nauvoo to the Salt Lake Valley, where the LDS Church became established.

After settling there with the Mormon pioneers, Pratt was called to return to Europe as a mission administrator between 1848 and 1851, during which time he also served as editor of the Millennial Star.[4] In 1850, as mission president of the British Mission, Pratt told his missionaries that "[e]very soul in Britain should hear the gospel this year".[citation needed] Although this goal was not achieved, by the end of the year there were twice as many church members residing in Britain as in the United States.

While presiding over this mission, Pratt received a pamphlet from Lorenzo Snow entitled "The voice of Joseph" that Snow wanted translated into French to advance his missionary efforts in northern Italy. Pratt managed to make contacts with people in Paris who were willing to do this translation.[8]

Opening the Austrian mission

In 1865, Pratt was one of the first Mormon missionaries to work in Austria. Traveling with William W. Ritter, he was there for nine months, but did not baptize anyone. The missionaries were eventually expelled by the Austrian government.[9]

Migration west

Orson Pratt in 1851

Pratt was a member of Young's initial pioneer company, the "Vanguard Company", that crossed the plains to select a western site for Mormon colonization. His journals of this trip are an important Mormon history resource. As the group made their way from Missouri to Utah, Pratt acted as the company's scientific observer. He made regular readings with the company's scientific instruments, took notes on geological formations and mineral resources, and recorded information on plants and animals. He described snow on Laramie Peak on June 7, and noted that rock found on June 10, "would make excellent grindstones, being of fine grit sandstone."[10]

As a mathematician, Pratt assisted company scribe William Clayton in the design and invention of a version of the modern odometer. Intended to compute the distance traveled per day, the design consisted of a set of wooden cog wheels attached to the hub of a wagon wheel, with the mechanism "counting" the revolutions of the wheel. The apparatus, called the "roadometer", was built by carpenter Appleton Milo Harmon, and was first used on the morning of May 12, 1847.

With Erastus Snow, Pratt entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 21, 1847, three days ahead of the main body of the Vanguard company. Several days later, he preached the first sermon in the Salt Lake Valley and formally dedicated the valley to the Lord.

Family and Wives

Pratt was married to ten women. At age 57, Pratt married his tenth wife, sixteen-year-old Margaret Graham. Graham was younger than his daughter Celestia, which caused his first wife Sarah, an outspoken critic of polygamy, to lash out in an 1877 interview,

Here was my husband, gray headed, taking to his bed young girls in mockery of marriage. Of course there could be no joy for him in such an intercourse except for the indulgence of his fanaticism and of something else, perhaps, which I hesitate to mention.[11]

Pratt and all of his wives and children struggled with poverty.[12]

1842 polygamy scandal and relationship with Sarah Pratt

In 1886, Pratt's wife Sarah Pratt claimed in an interview that, while in Nauvoo, Illinois, Joseph Smith was attracted to her and intended to make her "one of his spiritual wives" while Pratt was in England on missionary service.[13] To Smith's proposal, Sarah replied,

Am I called upon to break the marriage covenant ... to my lawful husband! I never will. I care not for the blessings of Jacob, and I believe in NO SUCH revelations, neither will I consent under any circumstances. I have one good husband, and that is enough for me.[14]

She issued an ultimatum to Smith: "Joseph, if you ever attempt any thing of the kind with me again, I will tell Mr. Pratt on his return home. Depend upon it, I will certainly do it."[15] After Pratt returned from England, Sarah later claimed another incident occurred between her and Smith at her home. "Sarah ordered the Prophet out of the house, and the Prophet used obscene language to her [declaring that he had found Bennett in bed with her]," according to Sarah Pratt's neighbor, Mary Ettie V. Smith.[15] Sarah told her husband about the incident; Orson took Sarah's side and confronted Smith, who denied Sarah's allegation and responded that she was John C. Bennett's lover.[12] The resulting estrangement between Smith and Pratt, who stood by Sarah in preference to the denials of Smith, led to Smith warning his disciple that "if [Pratt] did believe his wife and follow her suggestions he would go to hell".[16]

However, in the local and Mormon press, Sarah Pratt was accused of having had an adulterous relationship, not with Smith, but with John C. Bennett, and numerous affidavits were printed in local and pro-Mormon Nauvoo publications,[17][18] including the leading councils of the church and from members such as Jacob B. Backenstos, a relative of the sheriff of Hancock County.

Pratt became estranged from the church and Smith. At the time, apostle Wilford Woodruff stated that "Dr. John Cook Bennett was the ruin of Orson Pratt".[19] Van Wagoner and Walker note that, on August 20, 1842, "after four days of fruitless efforts at reconciliation, the Twelve excommunicated Pratt for 'insubordination' and Sarah for 'adultery'".[20]

Pratt soon returned to the church and denounced Bennett. Van Wagoner cites a letter written by Pratt's brother Parley P. Pratt,

Bro. Orson Pratt is in the church and always has been & has the confidence of Joseph Smith and all good men who know him . ... As to Bennett or his book [The History of the Saints (1842)] I consider it a little stooping to mention it. It is beneath contempt & would disgrace the society of hell and the Devil . ... His object was vengeance on those who exposed his iniquity.[12]

Pratt wrote a postscript to his brother's letter: "J.C. Bennett has published lies concerning myself & family & the people with which I am connected".[12]

On August 29, 1852, Orson Pratt delivered a sermon that taught the principle of polygamy, discussing the blessings of raising many children up in the Church. This was the first time the practice was discussed openly in the church.[21] In June 1870, Pratt participated in a debate against John P. Newman on whether or not the Bible supported polygamy.[21]

Writer, historian and philosopher

While in Illinois, Pratt acted as an instructor of mathematics at the University of Nauvoo.[21]

Second issue of The Seer February, 1853.

In Utah, Pratt's strong skills in analysis and writing led Young to assign him to produce sermons and pamphlets dealing with religious topics. Pratt wrote sixteen pamphlets in defense of LDS Church doctrines, drawing on the works of Joseph Smith and his brother Parley P. Pratt. These include "Divine Authority, or the Question, Was Joseph Smith Sent of God?" in 1848 and "Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon" in 1850 and 1851. His pamphlet "An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions" was the first published account of the First Vision and included a list of beliefs that is similar to Smith's 1842 "Articles of Faith". In "Absurdities of Immaterialism", Pratt defended the Mormon doctrine of materiality, with reference to science, philosophy, and theology. Although these materials were primarily used in the mission field, Pratt was also a church spokesman on the topic of plural marriage. At a special conference in Salt Lake City in August 1852, Pratt publicly preached a sermon announcing the doctrine of plural marriage. He later published an essay in defense of the practice in 12 monthly installments in the church periodical The Seer, which provides the most complete defense of the Mormon doctrine during this period. As part of his system of Mormon theology, Pratt embraced the philosophical doctrine of hylozoism.

Pratt's views were not always without controversy. In 1865, a majority of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church officially condemned some of Pratt's doctrinal writings, including some of his articles from The Seer:

The Seer [and other writings by Pratt] contain doctrines which we cannot sanction, and which we have felt impressed to disown, so that the Saints who now live, and who may live hereafter, may not be misled by our silence, or be left to misinterpret it. Where these objectionable works, or parts of works, are bound in volumes, or otherwise, they should be cut out and destroyed.[22]

In 1869, Pratt transliterated a portion of the Book of Mormon into the Deseret Alphabet.[21]

Pratt acted as Church Historian and Recorder from 1874 until his death. He edited many church periodicals and helped divide editions of the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants into verses and provided footnoted cross references.[23]

Science publications and lectures

Pratt was known as an accomplished mathematician, and had a strong interest in astronomy. The disciplines combined with others to form in his mind a philosophy of what might be called 'early' Mormon cosmology. He offered science-based lectures on these topics to early Mormon audiences in Utah, and published two related books. New and Easy Method of Solution of the Cubic and Biquadratic Equations was published in 1866, and Key to the Universe was published in 1879.[4]

In October 1851, Orson Pratt taught mathematics in the 'Parent School' of the University of Deseret. The Thirteenth Ward School House was used for a classroom. On December 15, 1851, he commenced a series of lectures on astronomy and its religious implications, in the Council House. These educational efforts technically were part of an adult educational program.[24]


At age 70, Pratt died of complications from diabetes in Salt Lake City. When he died, he was the last member of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve who had been an original member of the 1835 Quorum.[25]

Published works

  • An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions (1842) Project Gutenberg Kindle, epub, html, and text editions
  • Absurdities of Immaterialism (1849) Project Gutenberg Kindle, epub, html, and text editions

See also

Grave marker of Orson Pratt.
Back view of grave marker of Orson Pratt.


  1. ^ Teasdale and Grant were ordained to replenish the Quorum of the Twelve after the reorganization of the First Presidency and Pratt's death.
  2. ^ Smith, George D. (1994). "Nauvoo Roots of Mormon Polygamy, 1841-46:A Preliminary Demographic Report" (PDF). Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 27 (1): 1–72. Retrieved 20 November 2020.
  3. ^ Ludlow 1992, pp. 425–428.
  4. ^ a b c d Church history : selections from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Ludlow, Daniel H. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co. 1995. pp. 425–428. ISBN 0-87579-924-8. OCLC 31816181.CS1 maint: others (link)
  5. ^ Chisholm 1911.
  6. ^ Bushman 2005, Chapter 26.
  7. ^ Bergera 1992.
  8. ^ Homer, Michael W. (2002). "Il Libro di Mormon: Anticipating Growth Beyond Italy's Waldensian Valleys" (PDF). Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. FARMS. 11 (1): 40–44. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-01-23. Retrieved 2016-12-01.
  9. ^ Deseret News Church Almanac, 2005 ed. (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News, 2004) p. 293.
  10. ^ May, p. 57
  11. ^ Van Wagoner 1986, pp. 92
  12. ^ a b c d Van Wagoner 1986
  13. ^ Smith 1971, Van Wagoner 1986, Bennett 1842, Sillito 2002
  14. ^ Smith 1971
  15. ^ a b Smith 1971, Van Wagoner 1986, Bennett 1842
  16. ^ Van Wagoner 1986, p. 77.
  17. ^ Times and Seasons 3 [August 1, 1842]: 868–878.
  18. ^ Times and Seasons 3 [October 1, 1842]:939–940.
  19. ^ Watson, E.J. (1975) The Orson Pratt Journals, Salt Lake City: 180.
  20. ^ Van Wagoner, R.S. & Walker, S.C. (1982) A Book of Mormons, Salt Lake City: Signature Books ISBN 0-941214-06-0, at 212
  21. ^ a b c d Allen, James B. (1976). The story of the Latter-day Saints. Leonard, Glen M., 1938-. Salt Lake City: Published in collaboration with the Historical Dept. of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [by] Deseret Book Co. p. 158. ISBN 0-87747-594-6. OCLC 2493259.
  22. ^ Deseret News, Aug. 23, 1865, 373; see also B. H. Roberts, Defense of the Faith and the Saints, 2:294 (1912).
  23. ^ Allen 1976, p. 383
  24. ^ See Lyon, T. Edgar. 'Orson Pratt — A Biographical Study,' The Instructor (August 1947), pp. 361-62.
  25. ^ William B. Smith, who associated with the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was the last of the original Quorum members to die. Smith lived 12 years longer than Pratt and died in 1893.


  1. ^ This brief period of disassociation with the church had a long-term consequence for Pratt. When dealing with seniority in the council after the death of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young ruled that if a council member had been disciplined and removed from the council, his seniority was based on the date of readmission. By this ruling, both apostle Orson Hyde and Pratt were moved down in seniority in June 1875.[7]


External links

  • Transcription of above minutes
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints titles
Later renamed: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1844)
Preceded by Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
January 20, 1843–October 3, 1881
Succeeded by
Church of the Latter Day Saints titles
Later renamed: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (1838)
Preceded by Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
April 26, 1835–August 20, 1842
Succeeded by